Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Blue & White Stripes, Part I: 1940s Utility Dress & Shirt

I don't know a dressmaker who doesn't collect fabric. I almost never buy fabric for a particular project, but for a future imagined project of some sort, usually born from a romantic and harebrained notion that I may create the ultimate costume from the respective textile which has captured my attention and sparked my desire to have it (It's shiny, it's wooly, it's silky, its weavy, it's on sale, etc...). You do it, too, and I'm glad you do! I'm all about enabling a passion - whether mine or yours - even if dozens (maybe hundreds) of yards of that passion are stored snugly in plastic bins for later. Always later. For these three lovely cotton fabrics (above left), later came this year, twenty-years (yes, that's 2-0) after I bought them. They've been hanging out at the bottom of my big green bin (with wheels!) since 1997, fabric I bought when my girls were eight and four-years old. These fabrics were inexpensive, of good quality, and utilitarian. I could use them for a number of projects.

Those projects were a long time coming. It began last year when I bought this pattern from an Ebay seller...

...and stored it safely with my other vintage patterns. Did I make an association between the dress on the right of the Advance pattern cover and the fabric I had stashed? No. The fabrics were long forgotten and weren't recalled until I went digging in the big green bin (with wheels!) a few months ago. "Oh!" I said, when I rediscovered them. "I have a 1940s dress pattern I can make from these." I pulled the fabrics from the bin and the pattern from my collection and set them on my work table. Wait, I thought. Doesn't Kent State Museum have a late-Victorian beach dress made from similar fabrics? They did, indeed! I pulled the picture from my photo archive. Oh, OH! I remembered that there was yet another dress using these fabrics in a 1912 spring issue of The Ladies Home Journal. Whoowee, a dressmaker's delight!

From Advance pattern #3029, here is the first of three blue and white striped garments - a utility, or work dress, from 1942.  

To view construction photographs for this dress, please visit my Flickr page. Blue & White Stripes, Part II, coming soon...

Happy sewing, love, friendship, and blessings for the New Year! 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Fashion of the Forties at Kent State Museum of Fashion

~My grandmother, US Coast Guard, 1943~
One of my favorite eras in fashion history is the 1940s. Especially during WWII, where again, we see practical and necessary adaptions in women's clothing when the United States enters the war in 1941, and the women who manage the home-front quickly occupy the thousands of positions left vacant by the men and women who enter the armed services. 

While the United States did not suffer the level of economic hardship which impacted Britain and Europe, those goods and services necessary for war and military function were rationed, including the raw goods consumed by the fashion industry. President Roosevelt ordered the War Production Board (WPB) in 1941 to assess and implement critical changes in the nations' consumption habits to better equip the war effort. Rubber was the first non-food related good to be rationed, alongside large scale organized drives for rubber recycling. The Japanese had seized the rubber plantations in the Dutch East Indies, which supplied about 90% of rubber being used in the United States. 

Stanly Marcus, later to become the president of Neiman Marcus after WWII, was the head of the textile division of the WPB. He developed the yardage regulations imposed on clothing manufacturers, restricting the amount of fabric that could be used per garment. Because the military's need for fabric, especially wool and cotton, was a mandated priority over civilian clothing, those manufactures who exceeded the yardage limits set by the WPB were slapped with hefty fines or their officers imprisoned. Eventually, the military's demand for leather restricted civilians to three pairs of shoes per year, but these shoe rations were transferable to other members in a shared household. As the war wore on, more and more shoe manufactures adapted their products and began constructing shoes from heavy fabrics, cork, and wood as leather became scarcer. 

Of course, the fashion industry, after the rationing and hardship of WWII, took a decidedly bold and refreshing turn when the fashion houses of Europe reopened and Dior dazzled the recovering world of fashion with his New Look spring collection in February 1947. Gone were the conservative and masculine looks which had dominated female fashion during the war years and in were the voluminous skirts, tiny waists, and sexy bust-lines that would shape the female silhouette into the early 1950s. Fashion of the Forties: From WWII to the New Look at the Kent State Museum of Fashion highlights this transitional phase in women's fashion particularly, and features beautiful extant examples of service wear, civilian wear, sportswear, intimates, recycled clothing, and gowns from Dior to Charles James. 

Here is a sample of a few of the garments featured in the exhibit...


Beige cotton corduroy skating costume, c. 1940-1945

Blue Lastex knit bathing suit (Jantzen), c. 1940s

Maroon wool knit two piece bathing suit (Halle Bros. Co.), c. 1940s

Sweater knitted from unraveled wool knitted socks, c. 1939-1945

Wool sweater with knitted airplane and parachute designs, c. 1935-1945

Accessories and Intimates

Cream silk slip with lace trim (Heavenly Lingerie by Fischer), c. 1940s

Gloves and Shoes


Navy and white straw hat with grosgrain ribbon and silk flower, c. 1945-1949

Peach corset made from jacquard, elastic, lace, and boning, c. 1946

Silk jacquard pajamas (George Shaheen), Hawaiian, c. 1940s

Silk jacquard pajamas, Chinese (made for American market), c. 1940s

Tan plush wool felt hat with feathers (Leslie James), c. 1944-1948

Service Uniforms

American Boy and Girl Scout uniforms, c. 1940-1943

American Naval uniforms, c. 1940-1945

American Red Cross Nurse's Aid Uniform, cotton, c. 1943

Service jackets, American, c. 1940-1945

Wedding Gowns

Cream flocked satin wedding gown, American, c. 1940

Cream silk satin wedding gown, American, c. 1947

American Wedding Gowns

Fashion of the Forties: From WWII to the New Look at Kent State Museum of Fashion continues until March 4, 2018. For additional photographs of the exhibit, please visit my Pinterest page.

Blessings and happy sewing!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Got Arms?

Most sewists and dressmakers do not have a dummy with arms, and it is generally because most of us have an economical and adjustable dummy model, rather than a higher quality, fixed-size professional model (and even these don't usually come with arms). So, what if you need arms for your dummy and you don't have them? You make them! 

The most effective and inexpensive way to make dummy arms is to get old school and pull a playing card from the high-end department stores and boutiques, whose skilled and talented visuals staff constructs the displays that draw us in and encourage us to depart with our cash. Think soft, adjustable, and removable, just like the arms used in the males manikins pictured above left. Of course, these arms aren't glamorous or realistic looking, but they work very well to determine the general fit of a garment and for staging a costume. 

Let's begin...

No. 1: You'll need a bit of fiber fill, about 1/2 yards of cotton or cotton-like fabric (I used some leftover craft felt), two wire hangers, pliers (or wire cutters), and masking or duck tape (not shown). 

No. 2: Measure the length of your arm from the top of the shoulder socket to wrist, and the circumference of your wrist for later (my arm is 20" long and my wrist is 7" around). Using the pliers or cutters, snip the hangers two inches shorter than your arm length. 

No. 3: Using about 1/4 yard - or half - of your fabric (from the fold of the fabric to the salvage edge), cut two long 1/8 yard strips (one for the left arm and one for the right), and tightly wrap these around the hanger wire and tape off the ends. 

No. 4: With your remaining 1/4 yard of fabric, slice it into two pieces across the fold line - these will be your arms and they should both measure about 9" wide. Cut the width of the fabric to the width of your wrist, adding a 1/2 seam allowance. NOTE: If your wrist is wider than 9", you will need more fabric for this step. 

No. 5: Fold the arm tubes in half length-wise and sew across the top edge on one end only, then about 3" down the side. Then, dog-ear the top corners and trim the ears; turn right side out...

No. 6: Using a good-size wad of fiber fill, begin wrapping this around the fabric covered wire. This takes a bit of finessing, but you can do it. (Does anyone else think that this looks like larvae?)

No. 7: Take a small bit of fiber fill and stuff the finished end of the arm tube; then, insert one end of the covered hanger wire. Pulling the sides of the arm tubes together (the edges should be slightly rolled under), begin to hand-stitch the tube together (I used a blanket stitch). It will take a bit of finger dexterity, but we dressmakers are know for our awesome dexterous skills...  

No. 8:  Once the arm tube is stitched up to the other end of the hanger wire (but no further - you should have about 2"+ of excess fabric from here), secure the side seam, then close the tube by stitching across and over to the folded side, leaving the excess fabric of the tube.

Your finished arms should look like this, with the excess fabric being the tab from which you will secure the arms to your dummy. 

Simply pin them on to give your garment greater shape and definition...

 Leave the bag for the cat...

Blessings and happy sewing, my friends!